The Enchanting Sea Monsters on Medieval Maps

I’ve always enjoyed looking at maps (heck, I’d pick a random location, google street view the shit out of it, and call it a day), especially the old ones.  This is a whole new level of interesting though.

Sea serpents. Mermaids. Dragons. Lion-fish hybrids. Mythical creatures that appear on Medieval and Renaissance maps are so fascinating and wonderfully strange. Though purely imaginative and wildly unreal, the playful illustration and beastly art let you take a glimpse of mysterious, unexplored regions of the globe and the dangers of seafaring during that time.

Cartographers drew sea monsters to enchant viewers while educating them about what could be found in the sea. Most of the decorated maps weren’t used for navigation, but rather were displayed by wealthy people.

Chet Van Duzer’s book, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps illustrates 147 color images of such interesting creatures on old maps. Van Duzer examines the most important examples of this cartography from the tenth century to the end of the sixteenth, examining each mapmaker’s sources and influences.

One thing’s for sure, modern maps, which don’t have these fascinating creatures, have clearly lost something.


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